What Defines Product Liability
Products Liability cases are challenging, but they often give an injured person a chance to help others. Everyone remembers the coffee burn case in Texas. Stella Liebeck received 3rd degree burns on her labia and buttocks from spilling a cup of coffee she bought at McDonalds. After a Jury trial, the jury awarded her 2.8 million dollars. The judge reduced it to $600,000.00, and it eventually settled for less during an appeal.
Pundits across the country were horrified, and trumpeted that this was a prime example of lawsuits gone wild. Others, myself included, thought that the jury got it just right and that the judge shouldn't have tampered with the amount. Allegedly, McDonald's knew that they would injure a certain number of people, because they sent their coffee out at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Allegedly, that temperature is hotter than most people can drink without injuring themselves, but McDonalds knew that a lot of people took their coffee to work and that by the time they got there, it would cool to the right temperature. Allegedly, then, the jury awarded the profits for coffee for McDonalds for a few days for Mrs. Liebeck. Did Stella's misfortune and lawsuit help others? Of course she did. Surely some companies reduced the temperature of their coffee and many consumers thought twice after that before putting their coffee in their lap.
Products liability cases primarily occur when a product (while being used in a reasonable fashion) injures a person, or where a product has a dangerous but necessary feature or aspect to it, and the manufacturer fails to adequately warn the user and the user is then injured by that dangerous feature or aspect. In the Liebeck case, for instance, McDonalds produced coffee that was so hot it would cause physical injury if it came into contact with your skin (a reasonable possibility given the likelihood of spilling it). Further, there was no warning on the cup or anywhere else that the coffee was hot enough to burn you if you touched it.